Bijou: a Cabaret of Secrets and Seduction.
BIJOU AT THE BUTTERFLY CLUB, NOVEMBER 2016
Review by Dean Gerst: The Australia Times November 2016
As I walk through a rundown alley way I arrive at a bright neon sign that reads ‘The Butterfly Club’. I follow the stairs to the first floor and find myself inside one of the most cosy and comfortable clubs in Melbourne. The interior lighting creates a warm relaxing glow that drapes over the rustic leather chairs creating a homey and inviting feel. After I grab a drink from the bar, the bell rings and I am led into another room where the lights are dim and someone is playing the piano beautifully. After a few minutes an old woman shouting from the crowd interrupts the piano. She yells that the music is depressing and demands better music. It turns out the show has already begun.
Bijou – Secrets and Seduction is a one person show written and performed by Chrissie Shaw. We travel through various periods of Madame Bijou’s life and hear tales of love, seduction and sadness. Each bit of jewellery Madame Bijou wears tells a short story of a period in her life where her heart is broken, where she has lived in a lavish castle and has seen first hand the reality of living in Paris during The Great War.
The story is set in Paris 1933, in the Bar du Papillon. Madame Bijou, once Queen of the Demi-monde, delights the audience with humorous palm readings and singing for tips until she notices an unflattering photo of herself on the bar wall. Outraged, she starts to recount tales from her life, highlighting the highs and (very) lows and ultimately forcing herself to self-reflect on her life and mistakes.
Chrissie Shaw provides a performance that is entertaining from the minute she barges on stage through the crowd to when she sings the final song. Madame Bijou is a mysterious yet charming character. The songs blend well with the performance, every note is nailed and the timing is perfect. There are moments where she interacts with the audience, walking around and reading people’s palms with humorous one liners.
One part that stands out the most is when Madame Bijou takes off her coat and is in a corset and goes around the audience getting them to undo the top straps of her corset. She gets the gentleman next to me to undo the tops of her stockings while telling him to hurry up. Normally I cringe at audience participation yet I found myself enjoying the quirkiness of it and it worked quite well with the act.
Alan Hicks accompanies Chrissie Shaw on stage, and plays the role of the pianist in Bar du Papillon. He adds a humorous dynamic to the pair with little moments such as reaching for his drink just as Madame Bijou demands another song be played or rolling his eyes as she tries to dazzle the audience with her questionable palm readings.
It is a very entertaining play and I recommend you see it before the end of November when it closes.
Bijou – Secrets and Seduction is playing at The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place off Little Collins Street, from Wednesday 23rd November until Sunday 27th November. Full priced tickets are $32, $26 for members, and the doors open at 7pm. This play is certainly worth the price of admission. You will be entertained, have your fortune told and, if you are lucky enough, maybe even get to help Madame Bijou slip into something a little more comfortable.
REVIEW CLIPS: BIJOU at THE DEPOT THEATRE SYDNEY AUGUST 2016
Matthew Raven, The BUZZ
BIJOU is a triumph; a glorious and uplifting look into the underground artistic world of post-war Paris…you’ll find yourself transported to a Parisian cabaret fronted by the wonderfully cheeky Madame Bijou. Between burlesque inspired striptease, foxtrots and heckling the pianist, Madame Bijou takes you on a private, intimate journey through the triumphs and turmoil of her dramatic life story.
Chrissie Shaw is phenomenal as she glides around the stage charismatically performing her role to perfection regardless of whether she is required to sing, monologue or completely internalize her character.
Alan Hicks as the accompanist and back-up singer is also remarkable. Not only for his piano skills (they’re incredible) but also for his stoic, exasperated expressions in response to Bijou’s perpetual sass. It adds a great dynamic to the atmosphere and enhances the authenticity of the production and setting.
BIJOU is one of the better shows I’ve seen in a long while. Well written and designed and perfectly cast, this production has all of the elements you need to create an incredible show.
Kim Townsend, The Sydney Scoop August 20th 2016
As Chrissie Shaw steps into the spotlight at the Bar Du Depot, you get the feeling that she has lived it. Alan Hicks, who stars alongside Bijou as her pianist, seems right at home…and it’s evident right from the start that Hicks is a master craftsman of his instrument. You want to hear more and he does not disappoint. Much to the good-natured chagrin of Alan Hicks’ pianist, the old lady Bijou is a scene stealer. Chrissie Shaw masterfully engages the audience using direct contact that is both enjoyable and skillful enough to avoid embarrassment as she begins to weave her tale…
Chrissie Shaw handles the musical repertoire more than capably, switching from ingénue to tired cabaret star with ease while juggling the lyrics in English, French and German. The really memorable musical moments come when Hicks lends his voice to hers, providing some truly beautiful harmonies as he portrays the in turns sympathetic and exasperated pianist – a clever foil for Shaw’s showmanship.
Sydney Arts Guide
Shaw’s unbridled emotion and infectious charm shines through, lending life and drama to the scenes…The intimacy she fosters with lingering touches on forearms and occasionally risque audience participation transforms an overblown account into an invested emotional experience… Throughout, Alan Hicks’ beautiful, intricate music as the long-suffering salon pianist carries the audience along inexorably on a journey through time and space that is always entrancing, often funny, and never dull.
Suzy Goes See
Chrissie Shaw’s Bijou is a faded character from early twentieth century Paris. She was a sought after beauty, a collector of jewelry, a singer, a dancer, a great hostess and a seedy operator when times were hard….Her dramatic entrance in a glorious costume tells the audience we are in the presence of a great performer… a hilarious striptease routine, her steamy encounters, her performance art and dancing… a lot of her humour comes from the unexpectedness of her behaviour when dancing or being simultaneously coquettish and overtly sexual. Chrissie is accompanied on piano by the versatile Alan Hicks. His singing captures the era … a cabaret-style romp that places us in an old bar in Paris.
Bijou is a dramatic, curated tour through the life of a Paris madame, set to the sound of waltzes, foxtrots and old mournful music from a bygone era… Bijou (Chrissie Shaw) sweeps into a salon where the audience sits…awaiting their host. She is … far from faded, greeting all enthusiastically and launching into a spirited recollection of her life. Throughout, Alan Hicks’ beautiful, intricate music as the long-suffering salon pianist carries the audience along inexorably on a journey through time and space that is always entrancing, often funny, and never dull.
THE FAMOUS SPIEGELTENT: MARCH 2016
8th March 2016: Reviewed by Bill Stephens
Inspired by a photograph called “Madam Bijou in the Bar de la Lune” which was taken in 1932 by George Brassai for his book “Paris de Nuit”, veteran Canberra entertainer, Chrissie Shaw has devised an exquisite and intriguing cabaret.
Little is known about the real Madam Bijou, so Shaw has imagined an exuberant life for her. As the show begins Bijou is discovered, seated at her favourite table. She’s wearing faded finery and her fingers are laden with jewels…real or fake?….the audience can only wonder.
Each jewel is the catalyst for sparking a new memory in Bijou of some person or encounter earlier in her life. The memories are either delightful or distressing, but she shares each without inhibition or embellishment, as she wanders among her audience offering to read palms, or collecting tips and stray glasses of wine.
Shaw is a master storyteller with the ability to immediately capture the curiosity of her audience with a meaningful glance, a pregnant pause, a quick, mysterious smile. Within minutes she has the audience captivated with stories of her lovers, hanging on her every word as she talks of the young fortune hunter who deserts her, the bishop who seduces her, and the sheik. Are these stories real or are they simply a figment of Bijou’s imagination? Who would know?
Her moods change from beguiling to accusing, from wicked to innocent in a flash. She’s equally compelling as a world-weary old woman; a 12 year-old girl about to receive her first holy communion; or a madam performing an “interpretive dance” for an appreciative client.
Punctuating and embellishing Bijou’s stories are carefully chosen songs by composers of the era, Satie, Debussy, Poulenc, Milhaud and others, but it is Brecht’s “Ballad of Sexual Obsession” which most accurately suggests the key to Bijou’s current plight. Shaw sings them all charmingly in either French or English as appropriate, in a clear voice dripping with character, superbly accompanied on piano Allan Hicks. Hicks doubles as Bijou’s friend, the bar pianist, sometimes joining Bijou in song, providing gentle vocal harmonies.
The other star on this occasion was the Famous Spiegeltent, replete with its own faded finery, providing the perfect environment for this beautifully conceived and strangely affecting little show. Its many wooden-framed mirrors mischievously and unexpectedly revealing Bijou’s thinly-veiled vulnerability.
This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.. www.artsreview.com.au
Extracts from Reviews, August/September 2013
1. Reviewer: Deborah Hawke, The Barefoot Review August 2013 Rating: Best
I love an element of surprise when going to the theatre –Thinking (Bijou) to be standard cabaret fare that would equate to an entertaining, run of the mill night of cheek, I soon found I was deeply mistaken.
While enjoying the pensive opening cabaret tunes of pianist Alan Hicks, the ageing star of this one-woman show, Bijou, (Chrissie Shaw) saunters into the room looking battle scarred and world weary in her tatty fur, glossy pearls and heavily made up face. Rattling her tin cup for donations in front of our noses, it struck me this was not the glamorous production I was anticipating… after a spot of gleeful menacing … it was time to get down to business, with Bijou stepping up to her platform in the middle of the room and unleashing her divine voice on the audience. Through a selection of both familiar and obscure French and German songs from the 17th to the 20th Century, Bijou tells us of her colourful life of extremes that would make even the most liberated woman bury her blushing face in her hands.
It snuck up on you quietly; one moment you were casually interested in this sordid story, and the next you were utterly absorbed in her every word and deed.
It was quite a privilege to watch someone at Shaw’s age embody past versions of her character with such authenticity and precision, whether it be enfant, mademoiselle or madame. This was a woman who had lived multiple lives, constantly reinventing herself to survive in a man’s world, with each recreation creating another fascinating layer that is testament to the great depth of Shaw’s writing ability and character development.
With often quite saucy, even erotic themes, Shaw as Bijou also pulled off a level of sensual exploration much more grounded and assured than I have seen in any younger performers. Stripping down to a lavish corset and pantaloons (by designer Victoria Worley), she seemingly delighted in challenging people on the widely held belief that maturity and sexuality is an oxymoron.
… lovingly transformed by set designer Imogen Keen into a sumptuous, if somewhat seedy, bohemian den of delight complete with red velvet curtains, empty photo frames on the wall and candle lit tables…the surroundings served as tactile props for her elegant and stirring dance routines (choreographed by Liz Lea) as much as they contributed to the visual ambience.
Although Bijou set out to unravel the mysteries of a multi-faceted fictional character’s heart, there’s no doubt in my mind that the woman who penned her into life is just as fascinating.
2. Reviewer: Alanna Maclean: The Canberra Times Aug 31 2013.
Dark tale of high life and tragedy a cabaret gem.
a sinister and sensual piece
Shaw glowers among furs and pearls in the first half as she sketches in a story set against the events of Parisian history and accompanied by appropriate songs and music… As old age threatens, the pearls and furs vanish and there is a chilling disintegration.
Shaw maps this with aplomb, switching from song to speech and surrounding the audience with images of Bijou’s life. Shaw is backed by Hick’s unobtrusive piano and occasional singing. There’s a depth to the musical choices that supports the times and places of the narrative.
3. Reviewer: Bill Stephens: City News Canberra August 31 2013
Shaw’s glorious French triumph
AN image of an elderly, pearl-draped woman, taken by photographer Brassai in the Bar de la Lune in Montmartre in 1932, was the catalyst for this extraordinary production.
…her image inspired Canberra actor/writer, Chrissie Shaw to create and perform this exquisitely evocative cabaret about a wonderfully irascible, mischievous, beguiling story-teller.
Shaw draws on all her theatrical skills… to create a totally believable, fascinating character, who sings, dances, teases, flirts, and ultimately breaks your heart, as she rummages through her recollections…funny, horrifying, pathetic and sometimes profoundly sad…
Susan Pilbeam’s unobtrusive direction carefully guides Shaw through Imogen Keen’s warm, glowing Bar de la Rue, decorated with flickering candlelight and rich fabrics.
Liz Lea has devised dances that fit the character as beautifully as Victoria Worley’s luxurious collection of faded finery and Gillian Schwab bathes the whole proceedings in ever-changing, dramatic, moody lighting.
Alan Hicks is superb as the long-suffering bar-pianist, providing a strong supportive presence, sensitive piano accompaniments and even gentle vocal harmonies…a riveting tour de force performance by Chrissie Shaw in this gloriously entertaining, beautifully realised production.
4. Reviewer: Heather Wallace — September 02, 2013 HerCanberra
This is a one-woman tour de force through time…Part fact and part imagined history, Bijou’s stories spill forth as she caresses her jewellery, memories unfolding as to how she acquired particular pieces. Songs flow naturally, sometimes unleashing other memories…
Music and song are characters in their own right, and Bijou is accompanied by a classical pianist (Alan Hicks) she mocks for being ‘from the Conservatoire’, and taunts him into abandoning his high-brow melodies for flirty tunes she can sing to.
Alan Hicks is a wonderful accompaniment on the piano, playing softly as the audience takes their seats and welcoming us so completely into this other world that it comes as a surprise when Bijou charges through the front door. He is a gentle presence throughout…
From the title, you might think this is a lightwieght show, but instead it is a poignant drama. There is stripping and teasing though, as Bijou sheds her clothes as she moves around the café tables, encouraging members of the audience to help her undo garments.
Gentlemen be warned: if she approaches you, make sure you know exactly how to undress a lady. One young man on the night I went had quite a lot of trouble popping the clasp on Bijou’s suspender belt and received an important lesson, “Always push up and out!” she cheekily commanded him. I’m sure he won’t forget in a hurry.
5. Reviewer: Frank McKone: Canberra Critics’ Circle Sept 1 2013
…excellent quality in the work by Susan Pilbeam as director and dramaturg; Alan Hicks as pianist and in character; Imogen Keen for a wonderful evocative set… Liz Lea for choreography which recreated the styles of the times, from the 1870s to the 1930s; Gillian Schwab for lighting; Victoria Worley for providing costumes that could peel back the years as Bijou remembered them; and Chrissie Shaw herself for an original work, both personal and socially significant, and for singing and speaking with such vocal range – from the likes of Johann Strauss, various art song composers, Eric Satie, Kurt Weill and, to conclude, to Jean Lenoir’s Parlez-Moi d’Amour –